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Filmed by: Tomaž Kožar Jesenice
One of the things I used to admire about BMW was the focus shown by its designers and engineers. They were the snipers of the car industry, lying in wait while the enemy blundered about with smoking tanks and faulty machineguns, and then, boomf, delivering a killer shot that never missed.
Once the company had stopped fiddling about with three-wheelers and converted post office vans, it developed a recipe that served it well for nigh on 30 years. All its cars had double headlamps at the front, a straight-six engine in the middle, and rear-wheel drive at the back.
There were, in essence, three body styles, five engines and a range of options, so the customer could indulge in a spot of pick'n'mix.
You could have a small car with a big engine and no equipment. Or you could have a large car with a small engine and electric everything. But whatever you chose there was a rightness to the feel of the thing. A sense that the company had put driving pleasure above everything else.
Then it did a Coca-Cola. The sniper decided he didn't want to be a sniper any more and changed the damn recipe. So we ended up with four-wheel-drive cars that were made in America, and two-seater convertibles, and a wide range of diesel engines. And then it put a chap called Chris Bangle in charge of design.
Before Bangle, most BMWs adhered to the same set of rules. They had a lean-forward shark's nose, they had the double-kidney grille, they had grey paint and then there was that little kink on the rear pillar. It's called the Hofmeister kink, after the man who invented it, and it gives the car an aggressive, lean-forward stance.
Now, though, all of these design cues have been lost in a sea of planes and creases that probably play well in design circles. But in the real world they don't look modern or sharp. They look daft.
Still, at least the BMW badge continued to count for something. Apart from dipping their toe into the mass market with the truly awful 3-series Compact, Beemers were always a cut above norm. They were what you bought to demonstrate that life was treating you well.
Only now, with the launch of the 1-series, this last bastion of BMWishness has gone. Because the 1-series, like a Focus or an Astra or a Golf, is a five-door family hatchback.
For now, of course, this is great. It means a large number of people who could never afford a BMW in the past can put that blue and white badge on their drive. The neighbours will be impressed. The curtains will twitch. Men will offer their daughters to your sons.
But how long will it be, I wonder, before the 1-series does for BMW what Freddie Laker did for air travel? Turns something glamorous and exciting into a "win free save!" orgy of packaged mass transportation.
In the early Seventies, if you went to Florida for your holidays you were seen as pretty cool. But now you're seen as a rather stupid oik.
The 1-series will be the ruination of the BMW brand. Of that I have no doubt. But at the moment, despite the lost vision and the appointment of Bangle, that ruination has not yet got into its stride. For now you can still buy a Beemer and survive the experience with your dignity intact. The question is, should you? And to answer that, we have to work out if the 1-series is any good.
The advertisements tell us, endlessly, that unlike any other family hatchback on the market it has rear-wheel drive. And that's great. Rear-wheel drive is a significant part of BMW's DNA.
In a front-wheel-drive car the front wheels have to deal with the steering and the delivery of the engine's power to the road. It's a tough job and in most cases, for the purist at least, the end result is deeply unsatisfying. With rear-wheel drive the back wheels do the power delivery, leaving those at the front to get on with steering. It's a much more expensive option but the result is balance. And balance is a building block on which something spectacular can be created.